Now that Bush and Blair are racing each other to the bottom of the polls, I remembered one of the most unpopular things I ever wrote, a “Worm’s Eye column”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/wormseyeview/story/0,,1216006,00.html nearly two years old today. I stole one of the ideas from Matthew Parris: essentially the argument was that, since Bush and his policies were doomed, it was best that he win the election so that he and his gang could be blamed. If he lost, the catastrophe would have overwhelmed Iraq anyway, but it would have been blamed on the “liberals”. I might feel differently if I were American, and I would certainly do so if I lived in New Orleans. I got a great deal of angry and heartfelt mail from American voters as a result of this. But, still, I can claim that my slogan was prescient:
bq.. it is time for a new banner to march beneath, and this year mine will be something like “Anti-imperialists for Bush in 2004”. This will be a very small protest march, but let me try to recruit you to it anyway. The essential argument is very simple. It has to do with the intelligence of our opponents, the warmongering intellectuals. These people are not fools; in fact many of them are cleverer than I am. Some may even be cleverer, better-informed, and more practised at the exercise of power than the average Guardian reader. Yet it has taken this long for them to begin to admit that things are hopeless, and it will take another six months at least before the process is complete. It could take years.
Remember that the argument is no longer about the morality of the war, or its desirability. It is simply about whether defeat is inevitable; and it is hardly surprising that people who have invested so much prestige, and so many hopes, in the war, should resist the conclusion that it is already lost, and that the only question is when we accept defeat. They’ll be especially reluctant because it will be a real defeat; at the end of it, Britain, America, and indeed the whole world will be less secure than we were before the war started. We won’t be any richer, either.
If America is forced out of Iraq in a state of bitter and angry denial, looking, like Germany after 1918, for someone to blame, it will be a very unpleasant and dangerous neighbour for the rest of us; already one hears on the internet the argument that if only Fallujah were turned into a giant ash tray there would be no more trouble from the Iraqis. It’s quite possible that something like that will be tried, too, before defeat can be accepted.
The problem here is one of timing. Those at the front of events can clearly see nemesis ahead; but the mass of voters behind them is still filled with the original hubris of the enterprise. This will still be true in November, when America votes. It seems to me that if Senator Kerry is elected, he will either pull out at once, which will allow for the formation of a really dangerous myth that America has been defeated by its own liberals, or he will prolong the war. If he prolongs the war, he will bring to its command infinitely greater competence and courage than President Bush. That goes without saying. But is this really a good thing? If a salutary nemesis must overwhelm us, let it happen as soon as the hubristic can understand it, but no sooner.
So here I stand, with my lonely banner: “Vote Bush for a swifter, more certain nemesis”. Come back in two years and tell me I was wrong.
p. that was written on about the 11th of May 2004; published on the 13th.